Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Making Babies

I have seen a lot of discussion in the past several months bemoaning the fact that “they” are having more children than “we” are for various groups of “they” and “we”.

For example, I have recently seen a number of discussions of “The Fertility Gap” in which Arthur C. Brooks argues that Republicans are having more children than Democrats – and Republican children tend to grow up to vote Republican.

In May of this year, Charles Gibson delivered a commentary in which he told his audience that “we need more babies.” Otherwise, the majority of the population in the United States will be Hispanic in 25 years. Ghast! We can’t let that happen!

Matt Kennedy also argued that Christians have, “…not only failed to properly instruct our children in the Christian faith, but that we have failed to have children.”

Population considerations alone tell us that the last thing we need to do is to get in a race to make as many babies as possible. The environmental consequences of that policy would be disasterous. But, this is only one concern.

Concern 1: A Matter of Prejudice

This claim that our "race" must out-breed all of the other "races" is pure racism. Those who claim that "we" must outbreed "them" are saying that there is something morally significant in having more "us" babies than "them" babies. They are saying that race matters, and that our race must defeat their race in this population contest.

There is no sense to be made of such beliefs. At best, these issues only look at superficial differences. Many of our genetic difference have no obvious visual indicator. As a result, those who look like us might actually have more genetic differences than those who do not. It's just that those differences do not show themselves.

Somebody who considers all humans to be fundamentally, morally equivalent will discover that he cannot be "out bred" by any other segment of the population. He will discover that one branch of his family may be larger than another branch, just as people discover this about their real-world families. They will also discover that these differences have no great moral significance.

I can understand why some people like Charles Gibbons might be concerned about who is in the majority. I can imagine a group of children on a playground -- white and non-white. The white children are playing with a ball -- a ball that represents economic and political power, and they are playing a game of 'keep-away' from the non-white children. They toss this ball of economic power back and forth among each other, while the non-white children struggle to intercept it.

This game is scored by the number of times a particular person touches the ball. This represents his political and economic power. However, the ball must be kept moving. Naturally, people throw the ball to those who would be willing to throw it back to them.

A few non-white kids gain the trust of the white leaders. They convince the white kids, "If you throw me the ball I will throw it back to you." They do better than the rest.

It is 'the rest' that the white kids are worried about. If they should get hold of the ball, they just might reverse the pattern of play. They will start playing a game of "keep away" from the white kids who ignored them. Those white kids, accustomed to handling the ball a lot without sharing, might discover that they have taught the others a valuable moral lesson -- the lesson of handling the ball the ball a lot without sharing.

Ultimately, those who make the argument, "We need more babies," are proving that their interest is primarily in perpetuating this game of "keep away" from the other races. Why else have more babies, if not as a way of growing political and economic power in a way that allows "us" to keep control of the ball of economic and political power and to "keep it away" from those others -- the enemy -- "them."

The game itself is unjust. Given the amount of violence and harms inflicted by this game of promoting one race over another, we are better off promoting an aversion to these types of distinctions. We are better off using the tool of condemnation against those who make such assertion that it is important that "we" outbreed "them" because if "them" breed to the point that they gain political power, terrible things will happen. We must recognize that all of "us" (meaning, those of "us" who are not "them" -- as opposed to all of humanity) have a duty to avoid these terrible things.

Concern 2: Truth and Values

Only one of the quotes above – Charles Gibson’s – specifically concerns race. The other two argue for “making babies” as a way of winning a cultural dispute.

In order to justify these types of conclusions, there must be something significant at stake. What we are breeding for has to be something more important than, for example, a simple matter of taste.

The issue of taste would say, for example, that potato eaters must outbreed rice eaters, otherwise the eating of rice will come to dominate the eating of potatoes. The problem with this is that matters of taste are far too insignificant to justify calls for such a wide-spread breeding program. If rice eating becomes more popular than potato eating, then nothing of significance comes from this – except to the potato farmers and rice farmers (who should learn to adapt their farms to changing markets).

The question of “making babies” is brought up substantially over matters of culture, religion, and morality.

However, if “making babies” is how we settle these differences, then it seems that these differences are also trivial. Because, if they were not trivial, then we should be looking at some other way of engaging each other.

I am certain that almost all of my readers has encountered at least one piece of tripe fiction in which our heroes find themselves in a primitive village. In the closing minutes of the show, the tribal leader announces, “Are you nuts? We don’t resolve our differences by having people present their evidence to a group of citizens well known for their intelligence and wisdom. We resolve our differences by having a champion for each side meet in the arena. We have this set of really weird rules that somebody thought of a long time ago, and we believe that whoever can kill the other person without violating any of these bizarre rules must have be wiser and smarter than the other person, and we will then all agree with him.”

It’s like a court case, where the prosecuting attorney and the defense attorney draw a circle on the floor in front of the judge, and whoever can throw the other out of the circle gets to determine if the accused is guilty or innocent.

Only, in this case, the contest is not over who can throw the other out of a circle, or who can win a fight to the death under a bunch of arbitrary rules, but which side can pop out the most babies in the least amount of time. What Somehow, this is supposed to be able to tell us who has the better grasp of truth and virtue.

Some of us still like the “reasoned conclusion based on a careful consideration of the available evidence” approach.” I have no interest in breeding my ideas into acceptance.

Primarily, I hold this view because my ideas are a mixture of truth and error. I think that they contain more truth than error, but I could be wrong. Somebody has to be wrong and, though I hope it is everybody who disagrees with me, I cannot guarantee it. So, I want my ideas subject to a careful consideration of the available evidence so that, where they contain error, those errors can be discovered and removed before somebody gets hurt.

There is a huge bundle of arrogance in the “breed my ideas into widespread acceptance” plan. People who advocate this plan are substantially admitting that their own ideas have more to do with what they were indoctrinated into as a child than with an open-minded consideration of alternatives. When they insist on breeding their own ideas into widespread acceptance they are claiming an arrogant and unjustified authority to ideas that they are, at the same time, asserting that they came by substantially by chance.

Of course, evidence does suggest that children are significantly likely to adopt the views of their parents – no matter how foolish their parents’ ideas happen to be.

The “make more babies” crowd sees this as an opportunity for them to win the social debate without having to deal with the idea that their ideas are foolish – those ideas will not appear foolish to captive children unable to tell the difference.

The “careful consideration of available evidence” crowd draws a different conclusion. Rather than seeing this as an opportunity, they see this as a warning, that even our own ideas may not be the “careful consideration of available evidence” that we want them to be. Therefore, we have to work that much harder to check and double-check our beliefs against the available evidence – to constantly doubt ourselves and wonder, “Have I fallen into this trap?”

Of course, the arrogant “breed our ideas into widespread acceptance without regard to truth or evidence crowd,” there is no such thing as traps.


Sheldon said...

Bravo on the observation that the concern of the likes of Charles Gibson to have more white babies is open and blatant racism.

On this concern about having babies to promote ideology and religion. You say:

"Of course, evidence does suggest that children are significantly likely to adopt the views of their parents – no matter how foolish their parents’ ideas happen to be."

While this may be true, I can't help but think that those who think that having more babies will result in the victory of their ideology are mistaken. First, there are always defectors from their parent's ideology. Most of the time defectors may be only a small minority. However, I wonder if the current rise in religiosity might cycle into a movement of defection by their offspring?

Just a thought.

Derek Scruggs said...

I'm not really concerned about this issue, either. However, I wonder what you think about the situation in Israel, where some believe that Arabs will outnumber Jews within a couple generations. Given that Arab hostility to Israel has not declined much in the last 50+ years since Israel was founded, it's not unreasonable to think that demographics may utlimately lead to the demise of Israel in 40 years or so.

PS I recognize that just because someone is Arab does not mean they advocate the destruction of Israel. But there is a strong propensity in that direction, just like many folks in my home state of Georgia are much more likely to support Bush than in my current hometown of Boulder, CO.

Anonymous said...

The only case where supporting the baby boom is responsible is with small ethnic groups with a negative demographic trend. This is only to avoid their extinction and subsequent loss of genetic variation of the human specie. While from a moral point of view no race is better than any other, more races are better than fewer races from the biological point of view.

If the population of earth has not breeched the biological maximum already, we should stabilize all ethnic populations on their current levels by promoting a 2.1 child policy.

If the earth is already too populated the responsibility for decreasing our numbers should fall on the largest ethnicities, ethnicities with growing numbers and ethnicities in most densely populated areas. Other ethnicities should maintain stabile numbers until the population of earth normalizes, even tiny ones.

These policies should only be advanced for the sake of biological wealth and ecological stability, no economical or political motives here.

PS Whenever an ideology tries to gain influence through breeding, it as a dead giveaway of poor ideas.